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  • AFRICOM in US Transformational Diplomacy
  • Peter A. Dumbuya (bio)


President George W. Bush’s decision to create the Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2007 might have signaled the end of what Abel Esterhuyse has described as a “very cautious and defensive” US approach to its national security involvement in post-World War II Africa. Instead of adopting “a more proactive and preventative approach in protecting and extending US security and other interests in Africa,” Washington “very often lost interest in Africa and, indeed, had to “rediscover” Africa at several junctions during the post-World War II era.” In this paper, I extend Esterhuyse’s analytical framework to examine the critically important pre-1945 era during which the US laid the foundation for its post-World War II relations with Africa.1 This involves the interrogation of three inter-related factors that underscore AFRICOM’s creation, stand-up as a unified combatant command, and relevance to Africa’s contemporary security issues.

First, I historicize US relations with Africa from the Barbary Wars of the early 19th century, when America’s military complex began to take shape, to the onset of the Cold War.2 In this period the US Navy was engaged in Africa in pursuit of strategic, commercial, trade, and humanitarian interests that included the interdiction of slave ships headed for the Americas.3 America’s military and diplomatic [End Page 115] engagements with Africa continued during World Wars I and II. After World War II, Africa became a Cold War battleground between the US and its western allies on the one hand and, on the other, the then Soviet Union and its communist bloc allies. All of these events and interactions should have accorded Africa a place in the strategic thinking of Washington planners. And when policy makers did begin to recognize the continent’s strategic importance, their reactions were uncoordinated between the Department of State (DOS) and the Department of Defense (DOD), two of the most important diplomatic and national security departments of the US government.

Second, President Bush’s decision to establish AFRICOM followed somewhat bleak assessments of Africa as a continent that is strategically important but that it “continue[s] to pose the greatest security stability challenge” to the area of responsibility (AOR) of the European Command (EUCOM) to which over two-thirds of the continent was wedded at the time. The Pentagon, led by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, had concluded that Africa needed its own combatant command because its security challenges were impinging on EUCOM’s ability to carry out its traditional warfighting responsibilities in Europe. Since Africa’s challenges were mainly developmental ones, AFRICOM would utilize scarce resources and personnel from the DOD, DOS, and other US government departments and agencies to carry out its mission.4 AFRICOM’s establishment also shed light on what US-Africa security experts have often overlooked, which is that the DOD, through reorganization of its command structure between 2007/08, accomplished what the DOS had achieved by 1958 when it separated African affairs from European affairs with the creation [End Page 116] of the Bureau of African Affairs with an Assistant Secretary of State. By establishing both the Bureau of African Affairs with geographic responsibilities for Africa and AFRICOM, colonial ties and Cold War imperatives that once justified the lumping together of European and African responsibilities in one command structure were severed. But while the DOS slowly loosened Africa’s institutional and structural ties to Europe as decolonization gained momentum after World War II, the DOD, beginning in 1952, selected only North Africa for inclusion in EUCOM. The rest of the continent remained outside of America’s military command structure until 2008.5

Third, moving forward I examine the extent to which AFRICOM’s mission to promote US national security interests cohere with contemporary Africa’s multifaceted security challenges. Since much success depends on forging mutually beneficial partnerships, I examine US bilateral and multilateral cooperation with African countries to strengthen their own military capabilities which Washington sees as necessary for the region’s stability and security in the post-Cold War world. The Peace and Security Council of the African Union (AU) can serve as a...


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pp. 115-146
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